USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘birthday’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Swedish Birthday

Informant was a 20 year old female who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the United States. She came to visit me.

Informant: This is like a birthday ritual, that’s very common in swedish cultute. It’s not really anything major, but it’s tradition. So basically your family will wake you up on your birthday very early in the morning before you do anything else. And then the birthday person is still in bed and is woken up by the family coming in and singing happy birthday and bringing presents. And then also you just have some breakfast in bed and open presents and take pictures. We always open our presents in the morning. It’s very Swedish.

Collector: How long have your parents been doing this to you for?

Informant: This has happened to me since I was a kid. I got a bike once, when I was 5 and I was super happy, I opened all of my presents in my bed, and then I walked down and it was something in the living room and it was covered by something and I uncovered it and it was a little bike. It was great, and it made me happy for the rest of the day.

Collector: Do they bring you a cake when they wake you up?

Informant: No, they don’t really come in the morning with a cake. They generally reserve the cake for afternoon or at night. Sometimes, they will put a candle on a platter and will bring something small for me to eat like an orange. We do it for my parents too. My mom will like wake up earlier without waking up my dad if we’re doing it for him.

Collector: So they do it for everyone on every birthday regardless of how old you are?

Informant: Yes, my parents actually made me come home this year to brazil so that they could wake me up like this and celebrate my birthday. It’s always been tradition, so even though we are far away, we have to be together for our birthdays. Also, we sing a special birthday song in Swedish.

Collector: Why do you like this particular piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s nice, I feel surrounded by love and its your birthday and your parents and your friends and all the attention is on you. I would hate to wait, I love that it’s early and they come in the morning to wake me up, it’s so much better than waiting until a birthday dinner. It’s a really nice time to get together with your family and celebrate your birthday and get attention and love and all of that stuff. It’s very Swedish to be family oriented.

In my family, we always celebrate birthdays at night. That might be because Brazilian culture involves a lot of partying, and partying usually happens at night. I have never celebrated my birthday in the morning. My parents have obviously told me happy birthday when they see me in the morning, but it’s not really a big deal. It’s a much bigger deal at night when we go out for dinner with family and friends, but during the day we go about our day as usual. I think it’s interesting how much Swedish culture differs from my Brazilian culture. My friend loves being woken up early in the morning for her birthday, whereas my parents know that if they woke me up early, I would not be happy. Neither would my parents if the role were reversed. So although birthdays are big things in every culture, I find it cool how the celebration of birthdays differs within different cultures.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Birthday Customs

The Main Piece
A person’s birthday is a special day. A day of celebration, where said person should feel unique and get treated differently than all others. In the Jones household they uphold this tradition, but in their own unique way. They have set a couple of rules that each member of the household must abide by. The birthday person is allowed to choose every meal that the family will eat for the day and are “chore free,” which is claimed to be the second best part of the privilege. The number one benefit is known as “room choosing.” The birthday person selects any room in the house the night before and is able to totally rearrange it or decorate it in whatever way they want all at their beckoning call. Thereby, they can move furniture around, add curtains or mattresses, anything their heart desires. This room represents their throne, their palace, a place of luxury for the special birthday person. This is all done in celebration of the birthday person and everything is organized by members of the family in a collaborative effort to appease the birthday person.
Background Information
My informant is Nile Jones, a current undergraduate and close friend of mine at USC. Nile’s family has been performing this tradition ever since her eldest brother, who is now twenty-one years old, was six years old (therefore fifteen years of tradition). The Jones family has come to love the tradition as it is performed for each child and adult. Niles’ mother came up with the idea when she saw that her son was crying over not getting enough attention on his birthday. To get him to stop crying she told him that the day would be especially dedicated for him, and he continued to expect it to be so ever since. To make things equal she continued the tradition with each child.
Context
Nile told me this story as we were sitting together discussing her life at home. I found so many elements of her life differed from mine, I had so many questions to ask. It was casual conversation as we were simply chatting like normal friends. Hearing stories about my friend’s different lives has expanded my mind as I learn about their different lifestyles.
Personal Thoughts
Everyone, including myself, shares the commonality of celebrating birthdays. However, it was refreshing to hear that not everyone celebrates birthdays the same, drab way. The Jones family had their own take on what a birthday should entitle and expressed it through the traditions they practiced. I have learned that a family’s beliefs and ideals are often portrayed through the traditions that they practice.

Childhood
Musical

Rompe La Pinata Song

Lyrics:

Quien rompe la piñata yooooooooo
que la rompa felipe nooooooo
que la rompa isaito nooooooo
que la rompa julito noooooooooooooooo
que la rompa jaimito siiiiiii

mamita mamita yo quiero llorar
si no me dan un oalo pa romper la piñata
mamita mamita vendame los ojos
que yo quiero ser quien rompa la piñata

damela dale a la piñata
rompela rompe la piñata (4 veces)

Informant is a 39 year-old Ecuadorian male. He used to live in Ecuador, and has moved to the United States with his family.

Informant: In Ecuador, as far back as I can remember, they used to play this song for me and for the kids in the family now. They always play this song on the speakers at children’s birthday parties, when they break the pinata or when they do the cake.

Collector: Why do you think they play this song?

Informant: The song is very fun, and happy. It’s very encouraging to the kids, specifically it says to break the pinata. It’s specifically for the pinata, but it doesn’t have to be.

Collector: Where did you learn it from?

Informant: It wasn’t that I learned it, I just remember that it was always played. I would go to family functions, and for kids it was always playing.

Collector: What does this song mean to you?

Informant: I think a lot of it is not just tradition, but it also has a sense of nostalgia, or a rite of passage.

Collector: What ethnicity is the song for?

Informant: It’s mainly for people of Spanish descent, because the song lyrics are in Spanish.

I think that this song is like similar to the traditional “Happy Birthday” song in America. It’s upbeat nature and happy lyrics calls for celebration. The lyrics of the song reflect the activity it’s intended for: breaking the pinata. So, the song is also reflective of the traditions performed at Hispanic birthday parties.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gold Is A Girl’s Best Friend

“On my mom’s side of the family, because my mom’s side of the family is really rich, um, in India, like, her father’s, like, an advisor to someone super important, and he’s a professor at this like super prestigious university. And they have, like, slaves, and it’s just weird to think of my mom’s family being rich in India when we’re middle-class here. Ummm, but, so, I guess, I think it’s a South Indian tradition, but I know it’s definitely a big thing on her side of the family is when your eighteen-year old daughter or when your daughter turns eighteen years old, you like give her gold, like, just like, whatever every singly side person in my mom’s side of the family sent me something gold for my birthday when I turned eighteen. A lot of gold! It was all like earrings and like necklaces and stuff like that, and I don’t wear any of that, and my mom wouldn’t give it to me because she was like, ‘You’re gonna lose it.’ Umm so I just have all of this gold at home that’s like mine, and yeah, that’s a thing. In Indian culture, like jewelry and like umm that sort of stuff is really important like to the point of being sacred. Ummm, like you have, I don’t know what it’s called, but like the giant ummm nose ring that connects to the earring umm like that is a sacred thing that they wear in like wedding rituals and stuff like that, ummm. So just like, jewelry’s really important and the eighteenth birthday is obviously really important, and I feel like that’s where the tradition comes from.”

 

On top of the jewelry being sacred, this tradition sounds like something that’s done for dowry purposes. Once a woman turns eighteen, she’s of proper marrying age, right? So if she’s of proper marrying age, she’s going to need a dowry and property for when she gets married. The gifting of jewelry and gold marks this transition into womanhood, honors whatever sacredness comes along with this tradition, and also prepares the woman with a dowry in the case of marriage. It just goes to show how much the culture depends on money to reflect who you are as a person. It’s very different from our society. While we do look up to people who have money, it doesn’t seem to reflect on our character as much as it does in India.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Wear Red on Happy Occasions

S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.

S: So for like the Chinese culture there is so many, like it’s so crazy, but I guess, like the most popular ones, like would wearing red for like a birthday count as folklore?

Me: Yeah. But why wold you wear red for a birthday?

S: So like, so it’s the belief of the Chinese that red is like the ultimate like color for luckiness, and just like power and everything, so for your birthday you want everyone to be wearing red. And if anyone comes in wearing black, like that’s a big no no, ’cause black would mean like death or just like negative things, and like wearing black to a birthday or like any happy celebration would be like, it’s a sign of like disrespect and like wish that person like that bad luck. so never do that.

Me: Is it something that you do even now that you’re here? Like now that you live in the U.S.?

S: Um, no, not here, but if I’m with like family, or if I know that it’s a Chinese family, it’s like a more common known thing. So like even all around the world, you know. Yeah, so, but like you can wear other colors actually, as long as it’s not black though.

S talks about the Chinese culture in which it is customary to wear red on birthdays because the color red symbolizes luckiness, power, and in general just has good connotations. She says that it is okay to wear other colors as well, though it isn’t the same thing as wearing red, as long as you don’t wear black. Black symbolizes death and has other bad connotations so black is not to be worn on happy occasions, and it is considered disrespectful if people do wear black on happy occasions. Though she does not follow the practice so much now that she lives in Los Angeles, she still does when she is with family or other Chinese people.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Life cycle

No Early Birthday Celebration

The superstition: “It’s bad luck to celebrate a person’s birthday before it happens. It’s because people can’t possibly know that they will make it to your birthday, so to celebrate beforehand is the opposite of humble, I can’t think of the word right now.”

The informant is Indian American. Her parents are both from India, but she was born in California. She’s not very religious, but she considers herself culturally Indian. She grew up hearing this superstition from her parents, so she has always followed it. It seems rooted in spirituality, if not outright religion, which matches the informant’s cultural sense of being Indian without being religious. The reason for the superstition makes sense to me, that you’re never sure of the next day, so don’t be presumptuous when thinking about the future–to live every day grateful for simply waking up. It also mirrors beliefs outside the Indian culture, such as Christian prayers thanking God.

Childhood
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Half Birthday Celebrations

Informant S is 21 years old from Boise Idaho. He is a Philosophy major who also plans on attending Medical School. He is half Columbian and half American.

Basically every March 1st, my dad would send me a card or message of some sort, um celebrating my half birthday, which for some reason he gave a lot more priority to than my main birthday. We would usually go out and get half a cake or a doughnut, something that is representationally less than a cake, sort of driving home that half part. Then depending on what age I was going to be he would give me like half as much money. So if I was going to be like 14 years old, he would give me 7 dollars for my half birthday. And he would just do a lot of stuff that involved halves like half a card. Or if I wanted to eat something like a chocolate bar, he would give me like half of it. It would always be really fun to see what half things he would give me.

 

Analysis:

This half birthday celebration is a parody of a normal holiday of a birthday. It is a way for the informant and his dad to bond and poke fun at the usual way that birthdays are celebrated. This creative way to celebrate birthdays made the informant feel special and excited for the fun things his dad would come up with.  This special tradition forms a unique bond together between both of them.

Customs
Holidays
Material

Birthday Pan Dulce

My mother told me about this piece of Mexican birthday folklore from her family. Her father is from Mexico (Zacatecas specifically), and her mother is Caucasian, so she learned this tradition from her father (who learned it from his parents) This folklore is very important to my mother, because it’s a connection to her father’s heritage and is also a fun family tradition.

Every birthday, the birthday person is woken up by the other family members in the household by playing the song “Las Mananitas” (the morning song) The family members start the music while entering the birthday person’s room with a bed tray of Mexican sweet bread (pan dulce), Mexican hot chocolate, and presents. The pan dulce can be purchased from a local bakery (panaderia) or made at home, although the process of making it can take a long time, because the bread dough has to rise twice. So, having homemade pan dulce was always a very special occasion.

Because this only takes place within the family, it has become one way to indicate who belongs in the family. For example, after my cousin got married to her husband, when it was his birthday, my cousin’s family came into his room playing the song and holding pan dulce. It was surprising to him, but it was also an unofficial way of welcoming him into the family.

 

Foodways
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese birthday noodles

INFO:
The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

You have to eat noodles on your birthday and you can’t bite them — they symbolize long life, so don’t literally cut it short.

BACKGROUND:
There are a lot of noodle dishes in Asian culture, and the correlation between the long noodles and the idea of longevity is one that’s very prominent in Asian food cultures.

The informant’s parents would make her noodles on her birthday. No particular kind — just any sort of Asian noodles (not spaghetti) in soup, with no particular seasonings.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
I also grew up in a Chinese household, but I never heard the story about the noodles in the context of birthdays, only in general. It’s interesting to see how even when I’ve engaged with a particular piece of folklore, there is still variation in how that piece is presented.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Treating your guests to your birthday

“Birthday parties, you give your guests gifts, as a means of like, ‘Thank you for coming.’ And that translates as, like, if you’re having a birthday party, you pay for everyone to come. They don’t pay. They might give you gifts, but they don’t pay for anything. Also as like a, ‘Thank you for coming.’”

This is just another incarnation of the Russians’ famous hospitality. It would be unheard of to go into a Russian home without being offered at the very least a pot of tea and a snack. This culture is reflected into the way that birthdays are celebrated. Although we typically see birthday parties as a celebration of the person whose birthday it is, Russians see it more as a celebration of their loved ones, with the birthday as an excuse for getting together rather than a reason to celebrate one person specifically. A Russian would never dream of inviting someone to a party in his honor and then expecting guests to pay.

[geolocation]